Gaming in the Classroom

I am not a board game geek like some SVG PCV or one co-worker (I was gonna link to his very impressive 100+ board game collection but it appears that is no longer a possibility). I did play Monopoly when I was a kid. Still, I contend that board games are a great tool in the classroom. It started when I discovered a game called Pax Brittanica (through Daud, my co-worker) which allows players to become Colonial administrators and tax a colony. Tedious stuff – which was EXACTLY what I wanted to show my South Asia History students. So, I laid out the game in the middle of the room, and we went over the rules and did a few turns. The response from the students was amazing. Several came up to me afterwards and said that British rule in India came alive as the behemoth bureaucracy I had been describing all semester (SO MANY TAXES!, she said). Buoyed by this success, I took Tigris & Euphrates to my Late Antiquity class. This time my motivation was largely to have them see the map (again!) and see trading routes etc. and the response was again very enthusiastic. Students tried to place concepts from our readings onto game play and were (a bit too much) into it.
The third game I tried was The Indian Mutiny [big surprise there, I know] in my South Asian Civ class. Again, largely for the map and the game play which had strategies devised to capture Delhi quickly. Again, HUGE success. The students were all into killing as many “rebels” as possible until I put a stop to that bloodlust.
So, after all that success, I wanted to look for games that touched on various aspects of Islamic history. The obvious was there – Arabian Nights. But I wanted something that also dealt with the political history or Empire formation. Here comes my surprise. While there are 20+ games on the Roman Empire, several on British Chinese, Japanese, Aztec, Spanish, etc. there are NONE on the Islamic Empire. The Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Saffavids, Mughals = ZERO Games. The Ottomans did get one. But that’s about all. Which is a shame, because the rise of the Islamic empire will make one kick-ass board game (large board too). Someone needs to get on that.
I will be using the Ottoman game and the Byzantium for the class.

Ahl-e Wafa

I discovered Faiz Ahmed Faiz when I was a senior in high school (FSc for those that know). My mother warned me specifically not to touch some authors as they were godless communists or had mature content. Faiz was one of them (Manto and Faraz the others). I bought Dast-e Saba (Wind’s Palm) at a roadside vendor near Anarkali and secreted it inside my textbooks. I read it over the next nights and afternoons when amma was not looking. It is hard, even now, to say how deeply that slender volume of poems impacted me. I can state that the world appeared as if anew. Most of the poems in Dast-i Saba were written during his incarceration, 1951-1954, by the Pakistani state. This was not like poetry that I had ever read before. Sure, the idioms of Mir, Ghalib or Iqbal were there as was the Mahboob (Beloved) and themes of despair and longing. But more than that was a poet struggling to make sense of his political world and standing up against oppression. When I was leaving for US, I had in my possession a borrowed copy of Nusqhahai Wafa (Manuscripts of the Faithful) – his collected works. Instead of returning the book to Sohail’s father, I sneaked it into my luggage and onto US soil. For the next year, I read Faiz every night. Page by page. underlining lines, reciting it out loud. Faiz was my connection to my home, to my people. His love was unconditional but his critique was severe. I do not think I would be the person I am today without Faiz.

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F Day

Empires aren’t supposed to beat a hastily arranged retreat, Niall. What gives? Paul Bremer hands a blue folder to a confused older judge and a truly evil-looking Allawi and the Empire has left the building.

The Bush administration’s gamble here is pretty obvious. Paul Bremer boards the plane. Shi’a, Sunni, Kurds explode onto each other with Israel, Iran and Turkey enabling participants. Who knows what it will look like when it all settles down but no one will be calling the White House for explanations. Karl Rove will have a mark on his checklist [Liberated Iraq] and we are on to the races. I am afraid it doesn’t work like that. Or as Powell put it: You break it, you own it. The chaos in Iraq will remain front page news and the Bushies cannot dismiss it as an Iraqi problem. Iraqis are being granted the same freedom given to the Afghanis. A cobbled-up imported-elite rule, a country in chaos, and promises of freedom. And just like the Afghanis, they are not buying it just yet.

Should this be Freedom Day for Iraq? Well, if you would like to define freedom as Martial Law:

QUESTION: Mr. President, Iraq’s new prime minister has talked in recent days about the possibility of imposing martial law there as a way of restoring security. Is that something that you think a new, emerging government should do, and particularly with the use of U.S. forces, who would have to be instrumental in doing it?

BUSH: You know, Prime Minister Allawi has, you know, fought tyranny. He’s a guy that stood up to Saddam Hussein. He’s a patriot. And every conversation I’ve had with him has been one that recognizes human liberty, human rights. He’s a man who’s willing to risk his life for a democratic future for Iraq.

Having said that, you know, he may take tough security measures to deal with Zarqawi. And he may have to. Zarqawi is a guy who beheads people on TV. He’s a person that orders suiciders to kill women and children.

And so, Prime Minister Allawi, as the head of the sovereign government, may decide he’s going to have to take some tough measures to deal with a brutal, cold-blooded killer. And our job is to help the Iraqis stand up forces that are able to deal with these thugs.

Right. Allawi’s commitment to recognize human liberty must have been honed when his Iraqi National Accord was bombing women and children in Baghdad in the 90s. Do you really need Martial Law to deal with “one” killer. And while we wait to see if Martial Law becomes the rule, Bremer left behind 97 legal orders to keep things running smoothly [a traffic code that stipulates the use of a car horn in “emergency conditions only” and requires a driver to “hold the steering wheel with both hands.” ].

It is a different F word that comes to my mind.

Divorce of Imran Khan

If I had one superhero, one legend, in my youth it was the amazing Imran Khan– Captain of Pakistan Cricket Team through late 80s. I remember that poster in Aamir’s room of Imran’s bowling action and how I tried oh-so-sadly to emulate that. Got my ass kicked.
Imran Khan cemented his legend by leading Pakistan to World Cup victory in 1992. He retired and got married to Sir James Goldsmith’s socialite daughter Jemima. She moved to Lahore and converted to Islam. He started on an ambitious project to build the first free Cancer Research Hospital in Pakistan. After that, he entered the political scene by launching his own party, Tehrik i Insaf, based on a platform of social justice.
He was not that successful. You cannot break into the oligarchy of military elite and landed elite, no matter how popular you are. And he never won a seat until 2002. His political compromises robbed him of his character-based appeal to the public. Jemima’s faith was an issue as was his children’s faith (and names).
His divorce, at least in London, is being written as the incompatability of East and West. Hogwash. I believe him when he says that his political ambitions left him with little time for else. Or maybe it was his playboy past? I haven’t really seen how the Pakistani press is dealing with the story yet …
Regardless, it is sad to see one’s heroes proven mortal. Mais c’est la vie, non?

Jamali Juju Breaks

Poor Jamali. He was doomed ever since he started “speaking from the heart” and getting too chummy with the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). For the last 2 months, numerous rumors of his resignation or firng circulated. The writing was indeed on the wall. Chosen as a rubber-stamp PM, he did his job admirably until his relationships began to undermine Mushy. Especially, the uniform mess.
Shaukat Aziz, the Finance Minister, is now taking center stage (in 45 days). Anyone who saw the reception awarded to Aziz on his April trip to D.C., could easily tag him as the US Candidate. That’s him on the left up there with Wolfowitz who had the following to say about him:

On a personal note, he praised Mr. Shaukat Aziz, saying he is the one person whom “I know quite well.” “He was in John Hopkins, and he was later the most senior and successful executive in Citibank when he decided to go to Pakistan and offer his services-trying to repair Pakistan’s economy that was in bad shape- a country which had seen sanctions. He said he saw Mr.Shaukat Aziz as “a man who was concerned and very determined to serve his country under the leadership of President Musharraf.”

Aziz brings that “spokesman” cred that Musharraf deliberately avoided in Jamali. Now that can mean two things:
1. The US is tightening the screws and making Musharraf back off from playing Dictator or that
2. Musharraf himself is losing his support in the military and needed a third-party neutral PM who has a good reputation as a can-do guy with no pesky loyalty issues.
As Shujaat Husain, head of Pakistan Muslim League (PML) is the interim PM, I would go with option two. PML is the military rubber-stamp party.
Either way, I don’t think this was entirely a decision made in Islamabad.

Here is a most recent interview with Aziz that is filled with FM speak.
I have to say that the one thing improving in Pakistan is the economy. And he gets credit for some of it (the rest of the credit goes to the billions in aid).

So, let’s watch what happens now because with the ousting of Jamali, goes MMA. Maulana Fazlur Rahman, the head of MMA, was arrested in Karachi last night. He was arrested because MMA leadership has been banned from Sindh, yet, he decided to fly into Karachi International.

Watch this really carefully.

Charlie Did It

“It was all Kiplingesque,” said Charlie Wilson of his first encounter with the Afghani Mujahideen. Sadly, both the tragedy and the irony of that statement seemed to be lost on him. Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile is billed as a “riveting inside account of the last battle of the Cold War” by the publisher and wildly positive agreements are blurbed underneath that. It lives up to those claims. It is, indeed, a book worth reading from cover to cover and line by line. It is, also, a book that needs some serious critical treatment. Allow me to do a little bit of both.

Charlie Wilson’s War is the story of a Texas Congressman who was notorious for his womanizing and larger-than-life appetites. In Congress, he was on the House Appropriations Committee which gave him power to fund among other things, the CIA. In Texas, he became friends with Joanne Herring, a well-connected socialite and a roving ambassador of Pakistan, who introduced him to the human horrors of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Thus a charismatic, adventurous alcoholic Congressman named Charlie Wilson developed an all-consuming romanticized crush on the valorous and noble Afghani Mujahideen. Driven by his personal demons and appetites, he funnelled hundreds of millions into a covert CIA operation with equal parts Saudi money, without the knowledge of the American public, to train and equip the Afghanis to kill Communists.
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